With The U.S. and Japan gazing lovingly at each other over defense issues and Northern Europe looking quite serious indeed about keeping foreign subs out of its waters this week, Chinese and Russian are getting set to hold their first ever joint naval exercises on the Mediterranean. This month, the countries’ ships will conduct live fire drills which are aimed at increasing preparedness for cooperation and definitely, certainly, totally, not even a little bit aimed at jabbing the West in the metaphorical ribs. USNI has the key quote:
“The purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the pragmatic cooperation between China and Russia and to improve the capabilities of the two navies to deal with maritime threats,” said ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Geng Yansheng on Thursday.
“What needs to be stressed is that, the joint exercise is not targeting any third party and not related to the regional situation.”
Especially since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over China and Russia emerging as a powerful revisionist coalition. By and large, these fears have been misplaced, as they were, for example, when China and Russia inked some massive energy deals decades in the making. More than anything, these deals showed China using a weak Russian moment to get itself a bargain basement price, not a real desire to help someone with shared enemies.
It’s legitimate to worry about the major revisionist powers uniting, with Putin as aggressive and Russia as unstable as ever, with China rising and priming it’s guns, and with Iran seemingly doing everything it can to poison its relations with Washington. Western policymakers have to be careful not to incentivize this kind of thing, or they risk creating a parallel system of trade and power that would make the world poorer and more dangerous.
But provocative drills in the Mediterranean are just a gesture, and what we’re looking at between Russia and China right now isn’t love. At best, it’s a marriage of convenience.